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Detecting gamma-rays from a microquasar

This image locates the view around Cygnus X-3 within Fermi's all-sky map.
[Image courtesy of NASA/DOE/Fermi Lat Collaboration]

A microquasar happens when a normal star begins shedding its matter onto either a neutron star or a black hole. This phenomenon produces large amounts of radiation and "jets" of material moving at relativistic speeds—more than 10 percent the speed of light—away from the star. These "relativistic jets" are a great mystery to scientists, but a new discovery involving a known microquasar could provide researchers with new ways to study them.

Brighter colors indicate greater numbers of gamma rays detected in this Fermi LAT view of a region centered on the position of Cygnus X-3 (circled). The brightest sources are pulsars.
[Image courtesy of NASA/DOE/Fermi Lat Collaboration]

A. Abdo and researchers at the Fermi LAT Collaboration have detected unpredictable gamma-ray emissions coming from Cygnus X-3, a star system that scientists know to be a microcquasar, using the Fermi Large Area Telescope. This finding marks the first time that anyone has directly detected a microquasar in such high-energy gamma-rays.

The researchers matched the gamma-rays to the known orbital period of the Cygnus X-3 microquasar in order to confirm that the strong pulses of radiation were, in fact, originating from it. They also matched the gamma-rays with radio emission from the relativistic jets of Cygnus X-3.

In the future, these findings should tell us a lot more about the formation of such mysterious and fast-moving relativistic jets. This research appears in the 26 November issue of Science Express.